£4.5m digital transformation support for SMEs across the UK

Excited African-American student takes off virtual reality simulator and laughing with his multi ethnic group of friends.

Hartree Centre SME hubs will enable regional SMEs across the UK to gain competitive advantage through the adoption of advanced digital technologies.

Three UK universities have been awarded a share of £4.5 million to fund small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) engagement hubs as part of the Hartree National Centre for Digital Innovation (HNCDI) programme.

Cardiff University, Newcastle University and Ulster University will provide targeted and accessible support for SMEs to improve their competitiveness and growth through the adoption of digital technologies and methods.

Their support will assist their regional SMEs in taking advantage of the digital adoption expertise available from the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Hartree Centre including areas such as:

  • supercomputing
  • data analytics
  • visual computing
  • artificial intelligence (AI)

Enhancing productivity, engagement and growth

The universities will use their own in-house expertise and industry engagement experience to enable the transfer and exchange of knowledge into UK businesses to enhance their productivity, innovation and growth.

Through this initiative, the Hartree Centre will establish an SME engagement support UK network, connecting its advanced digital technologies and expertise to other established regional networks of industry-led research and innovation.

Technologies of tomorrow

Minister of State at the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, George Freeman, said:

The UK has always been at the cutting edge of some of the most important technologies of tomorrow, but too often, we’ve failed to translate that unrivalled expertise into practical tools and resources which can benefit our wider business communities.

That’s why, in 2021, we committed to bringing our brightest minds together in fields including AI and Quantum, through a £172 million investment to establish the Hartree National Centre for Digital Innovation.

The funding announced today will go even further to turn great science and technology into great business, providing an unrivalled network of support for those SMEs who are adopting emerging technologies. These new hubs will allow us to target support at a local level, while laying the foundations for a larger support ecosystem connecting companies right across the UK.

Economic sustainability

Professor Kate Royse, Director of STFC Hartree Centre, said:

It’s important to us that support for digital technology adoption reaches as many companies across the UK as possible, and the Hartree Centre SME hubs will enhance that regional access.

The partner organisations we’ve selected have a wealth of data science and AI expertise that builds on our own, and will be key to the Hartree National Centre for Digital Innovation growing our SME networks and supporting more organisations to upskill and carry out digital transformation.

The SME hubs will help the Hartree Centre support the UK to put digital innovation at the heart of our future economic sustainability.

Connecting science with industry

Professor Mark Thomson, STFC Executive Chair, said:

The HNCDI programme is an outstanding example of what can be achieved when we connect leading minds in industry with those in science and technology.

These SME hubs will enable UK businesses to turn burgeoning technologies such as supercomputing and artificial intelligence into new capabilities that will give them a competitive edge in the global marketplace.

The networks they create will help to unlock the immense potential of our SME’s and contribute to STFC’s mission of creating a diverse ecosystem for innovation in science and technology for the benefit of all society.

Supporting SMEs across the UK

With an equal share of the £4.5 million funding, the SME hubs will be funded for three years to establish a network of digital adoption support that is easily accessible and available locally to SMEs across the UK.

The universities will become regional hubs for the HNCDI programme, located within Sci-Tech Daresbury in the Liverpool City Region, as the central locus of activity.

The Hartree Centre’s support can also be accessed through existing STFC campus locations in Oxfordshire and Edinburgh, Scotland.

Quotes from the Hartree Centre SME hub partners

Growing capacity and capability

Professor Alun Preece, Director of the Hartree Centre SME hub at Cardiff University, said:

We are looking forward to working closely with the Hartree Centre to grow capacity and capability in our regional digital transformation ecosystem, to enable inclusive and responsible innovation across the SME community.

Transforming businesses

Professor Barry Hodgson, Director of Strategy, National Innovation Centre for Data at Newcastle University, said:

The National Innovation Centre for Data and Sunderland Software City are thrilled to be involved in the HNCDI programme and host a Hartree SME engagement hub in the north-east.

Our team of expert data scientists will work with companies across the region to transform their businesses through digital technology adoption and the innovative use of data.

We look forward to collaborating with Hartree Centre and the other hubs to deliver this exciting programme.

Upskilling and digital innovation

Professor Liam Maguire, Pro Vice-Chancellor Research at Ulster University, said:

Ulster University in partnership with Cambium LLP is delighted to have been selected to lead an SME engagement hub as part of the HNCDI programme.

The creation of this hub with its dedicated space and expert personnel will allow us to build upon this partnership to deliver upskilling and digital innovation to all sectors of the Northern Ireland economy.

With its very high proportion of SMEs, Northern Ireland has a marked lower performance than the UK average in terms of digitalisation generally and AI adoption specifically so there is a clear and present need for this hub.

Official launch date confirmed

A media and stakeholder launch event for the new Hartree Centre hubs will take place 12 June 2023 at Cardiff University.

If you would like to attend, please email hartreecomms@stfc.ac.uk including your name, organisation or publication and reason for interest.

Further information

The HNCDI is a collaboration between STFC and IBM. The funding for the SME hubs comes from the original UK government investment in the HNCDI programme, announced in June 2021.

Top image:  Credit: miniseries, E+ via Getty Images

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